Sunday sees the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) return for the first time in 214 days after a period of crises bordering on governance of football in the country and promotion playoff among second tier clubs.
The 2018/19 season kicks off with six matches as the other six have been postponed owing to CAF club competitions involving Lobi Stars and Enugu Rangers as well as the four promoted clubs Kada City, Bendel Insurance, Remo Stars and Gombe United given a few days to regroup after the promotion playoff in the Nigeria National League (NNL) this week.
The matches in Aba and Kano feel like eye-catching spectacles for me though MFM FC have lost a handful of their key players ahead of their trip to Enyimba. At the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano, Heartland who were off-colour all through last season will look to start this term on a good note against Kano Pillars.
The Predictor puts in his two cents’ worth on the six matches on offer of Matchday 1.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 13, 2019
KWARA UNITED vs SUNSHINE STARS
Last season both clubs struggled with Sunshine Stars being docked three points for breaching the league rules. However going into this season Kwara United look different under Abubakar Bala who have bolstered his playing personnel with Andrew Ikefe, Solomon Owello, Peter Momoh, Usman Mohammed, Wilfred Ammeh and Emmanuel Sunday.
New Sunshine Stars head coach Kabir Dogo believes his team are still not fully ready for the campaign. “I believe the team is 80% ready for the first two games,” he said this week to the club’s media. Sunshine will rely heavily on homegrown talents and a few experienced players this term and I think their opening game might have come too soon.
My prediction: 2-1
🔴 THIS SUNDAY IN ABA🔵
⚽️ Enyimba 🆚 MFM FC
📍NPFL Matchday 1
🏠 Enyimba International Stadium, Aba.
📆 Sunday 13/01/2019
— MFMFCLagos (@MFMFC_Lagos) January 11, 2019
ENYIMBA vs MFM FC
Seven-time champions Enyimba have kept a large number of their players from last season including Andrew Abalogu, Nelson Ogbonnaya, Stanley Dimgba and Stephen Chukwude who signed new deals in December. They also had a big departure in Mfon Udoh who returned to his hometown club Akwa United.
I think it will be a miracle if MFM take a point away from Enyimba in Aba considering the fact that they have lost the like of Stanley Okorom and Onuwa Chukwuka to Enyimba and Sikiru Olatunbosun to Plateau United. MFM head coach Fidelis Ilechukwu is already talking of “a fresh start” for his club but I fear they will face a difficult start.
My prediction: 2-0
NASARAWA UNITED vs ABIA WARRIORS
Abia Warriors have never lost any of their opening day match in the NPFL since they made their debut in the top division in 2014. They have brought in Henry Makinwa as head coach for this season and I am sure the former ABS man will be keen to start on a good note in Lafia when they face Nasarawa United as the Umuahia side begin life without one of their influential stars Ndifreke Effiong who is now with Akwa United.
The Solid Miners have been slow starters in the past six seasons — managing just two draws in their last six opening day matches. Nasarawa United are yet to name a new head coach for the season since Dogo’s departure and that means Ariyika Mohammed will continue in his interim role. I think Nasarawa United will begin this season on another winless start like the previous six.
My prediction: 0-0
PLATEAU UNITED vs FC IFEANYIUBAH
FC Ifeanyiubah have had too many departures ahead of this season and that is no thanks to their inability to keep to contractual agreements in past months with players. Uche Okagbue will have to work hard as the Anambra Warriors are now on a shoe-string budget unlike Plateau United who were very active in the first transfer window.
Abu Maikaba knows he has to start with a win in his first competitive game as Plateau United head coach. Maikaba sure has options to choose from in his playing personnel including new-signings Godwin Obaje, Sikiru Olatunbosun and Bernard Ovoke who are all expected to hit the ground running. It will be difficult to look beyond a Plateau United win.
My prediction: 3-0
KANO PILLARS vs HEARTLAND
This game, I know, is always feisty. Last season Heartland were abysmal propping up the rear end of the standings for longer periods and in this fixture last term, the Naze Millionaires suffered a 0-2 defeat in Kano. It has been more than 10 years since Heartland won in Kano since that famous 1-0 win in the CAF Champions League, and I do not think they can replicate that this Sunday.
There is no doubt Pillars are favourites going into this contest whether last season’s top scorer Junior Lokosa plays or not as he is linked with a move abroad. Pillars have had issues off the pitch regarding the appointment of their head coach after Kabiru Baleria was elevated to replace Ibrahim Musa and then allegation against goalkeeper David Obiazo throwing a Cup final game. Nonetheless I believe Pillars will edge Heartland to start on a winning note.
My prediction: 1-0
AKWA UNITED vs EL-KANEMI WARRIORS
I am sure Brazilian trainer Rafael Everton knows that he has to start his managerial career at Akwa United with an opening day as the club’s faithful will want nothing less as he steps into the shoes of immediate past head coach Abdu Maikaba. He already has a playing staff bolstered by the arrivals of Mfon Udoh, Juwon Oshaniwa, Emeka Atuloma, Ocheme Edoh, Ndifreke Effiong and Brazilian midfielder Alberico da Silva. Akwa’s playing personnel look as nice as ninepence even without kicking a ball yet.
— Akwa United FC (@AkwaUnited_fc) January 11, 2019
El-Kanemi will have their hands full as they have had a quiet pre-season plus colourless transfer activity which has seen them lose some of their key players like John Lazarus, Otakho Aghahowa. However it might not be a stroll in the park for Akwa as Mohammed Baba Ganaru will lead the Borno club from the dugout as the like of Chinedu Ohanachom, Joe Maamo, Idris Sabo, Eugene Obi, Babatunde Solomon and co look to pull off an upset which I do not think will happen at the Nest of Champions.
My prediction: 3-1
© The Predictor NG